“Among the mechanisms of human agency, none is more focal or pervading than the belief of personal efficacy. This core belief is the foundation of human agency. Unless people believe that they can produce desired effects and forestall undesired ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act.” – Albert Bandura, Exercise of Human Agency through Collective Efficacy, 2000
Have you ever felt that you are highly successful in some situations while you are consistently anxious, nervous and making excuses in others?
You may have grown up looking at the behaviors of people in your life who may have been role models for you. Some role models may have been favorable while others may have added to your anxiety and discomfort in certain situations.
You may have tried out things yourself and decided early on if you are talented or not in different fields based on how you did or what others told you.
Are you highly influenced by the verbal persuasion of family, friends and others in your life?
Have you felt like repeated small successes could make you feel like you could take on the world and do anything while consistent failures eroded your concept of self to produce results and be effective?
Well, the truth is that we may have all felt great in some areas of our lives while other areas of our life seem to require constant uphill attention and engagement.
And the areas and situations that we do not believe we can be effective are the areas that we show the most avoidance and make the most excuses.
What is the psychology behind what we believe in our life to be true about our abilities and how does that influence our behaviors that produce success, failure, the ability to face difficult situations and how we make excuses?
I believe that that the key to the above questions lies in “self-efficacy.”
WHAT IS SELF-EFFICACY?
Self-Efficacy was originally described by the legendary psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977 in his seminal paper titled “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” published in The Psychological Review.
self-efficacy is the strength of personal belief, the conviction and expectation that one is able to display the behaviors required for successful outcomes and results.
In other words, it is the strength of your belief in your own ability to consistently execute behaviors that lead to successful results.
Bandura distinguishes between outcome expectations and efficacy expectations. For example, one can believe that a certain behavior may produce a certain outcome. However, efficacy is the personal belief that one can take the actions that lead to the results and the outcome.
“Outcome and efficacy expectations are differentiated, because individuals can believe that a particular course of action will produce certain outcomes, but if they entertain serious doubts about whether they can perform the necessary activities such information does not influence their behavior.”- Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change
This means that you may believe that a certain set of behaviors may produce success but still do not have a self-concept or the personal confidence that your behaviors will produce the same success.
Bandura describes that what you expect of your own mastery and your efficacy can have a direct consequence on the beginning and the continuation of behaviors that you will implement to cope with the situation.
How strong is your conviction in your own effectiveness will likely determine if you will even bother to implement the behaviors.
If you feel that a situation is fear inducing and is beyond your skill level to cope with, you might altogether avoid it. I believe that it is this stage when you are confronted with a seemingly difficult and threatening task and the lack of self-efficacy to cope with it, you are prone to making excuses to justify your lack of perceived success.
However, if you feel a situation is within your coping skill, you will confidently get involved in it and display behaviors that can allow you to complete tasks and accomplish success.
ADVANTAGES OF STRONG SELF-EFFICACY
You expect to eventually succeed.
You unleash behaviors and coping mechanisms that allow for accomplishment.
You are more willing to make a conscious effort to make a change.
You are more likely to show persistence when inevitable obstacles, difficulties and failure arise.
You will likely develop more confidence of your self-efficacy and skills.
DISADVANTAGES OF LOW SELF-EFFICACY
You will likely quit more easily.
You might believe that tasks are more difficult than they really are.
You do not perceive eventual success because you do not see that due to your self-concept.
You will have self-demeaning expectations and even if you launch, you will move about expecting failure.
Small setbacks and failures will bolster your lack of self-efficacy and move you even further from the belief of the outcome.
You may make excuses to justify your lack of success and to justify for the contradiction between lack of efficacy and the possibility of success.
Bandura makes the caveat that it is not just expectation that is the determinant of performance. Once there is sufficient skill level and there are incentives to work for, self-efficacy expectations are the major reasons of people’s activities, the effort they are willing to put in and how long will they persist under stressful conditions.
TYPES OR DIMENSIONS OF EFFICACY
1. Efficacy might differ in magnitude. Bandura says that when tasks have different levels of difficulty, what efficacy expectation that you have might allow you to do the simpler tasks, or moderately difficult ones or they might extend all the way to the most difficult ones.
2. Generality: Some experiences might create a highly specific set of mastery expectation while some other might create more generalized levels of mastery that goes much beyond a targeted or specific focus.
This might be the reason that some people have a very high level of self-efficacy in their particular field like art or design but prone to low self-efficacy with their marketing skills to market the art because they do not have a generalized sense of efficacy that extends from art into marketing.
3. Strength: Weak self-efficacy expectations will be easily overcome by obstacles while strong efficacy expectations will allow for better coping in the face of failure and other unfavorable situations.
SOURCES OF EFFICACY
1. Performance Accomplishments or Mastery Experiences
Bandura says that this source of efficacy is influential. When we are confronted with successes, our mastery expectations rise while repeated early failures lower these expectations.
If your general experience is that repeated effort can overcome and master even difficult situations, occasional setbacks and failures that are overcome can build your persistence.
After efficacy is strengthened, It is also possible for efficacy to transfer and generalize to other areas where you may have experienced a lower self-efficacy and performance. However, the transfer is to the situations that are most similar to the enhanced self-efficacy.
2. Vicarious Experience or Modeling
This self-efficacy is based on the modeling or seeing others succeed in fearful or difficult situations. This kind of modeling and observation can create an expectation that you too can improve and succeed if you persist in your efforts.
This experience and increase of self-efficacy is based on social comparison and is likely to be weaker when compared to direct personal accomplishment, especially when done alone.
3. Verbal Persuasion
This efficacy is based on the idea that you can be verbally encouraged and persuaded by others to become successful in a particular field that might have frustrated and overwhelmed you in the past.
According to Bandura:
“In attempts to influence human behavior, verbal persuasion is widely used because of its ease and ready availability. People are led, through suggestion, into believing they can cope successfully with what has overwhelmed them in the past.”- Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change
4. Emotional Responses: How you respond and react emotionally to stressful or difficult situations may also be an important factor in self-efficacy. If your emotional responses before, during and after are not negative or unfavorable in a situation, you might more readily expect success.
“By conjuring up fear-provoking thoughts about their ineptitude, individuals can rouse themselves to elevated levels of anxiety that far exceed the fear experienced during the actual threatening situation.” – Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change
How you perceive and interpret and the meaning you give to the emotional responses might be more important than the magnitude of the responses themselves.
ACTION TIPS AND WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO ENHANCE SELF-EFFICACY?
1. Become aware that a pre-set efficacy level learned early could be the key for you to not feel and show motivation in a specific situation and the possibility of excuses.
2. You may believe others can do a task but do not believe that true of yourself and have low efficacy. Your goal is to bridge that gap.
3. Modify your efficacy expectations because they might determine the actual amount of effort and work you put in.
4. Efficacy is also key to staying the course when the going gets tough and difficult. If you do not want to spiral into excuses, develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy.
5. Efficacy comes in different dimensions. It is best to address the multi-dimensional issues of magnitude, generality and strength of efficacy.
6. Highlight your past and current successes and mastery experiences. This is a great method to build self-efficacy by demonstrating to you the capacities that you possess. DO not expect huge successes and big wins, instead aim for realistic small wins and what is going right.
7. Find models that are similar and believable and can be used as positive reinforcers of your efficacy. DO not focus on models that enervate and lessen your self-efficacy.
8. Develop a core group or mastermind circle that encourages and verbally persuades you to enhance your self-efficacy. Be cautious of people who continually diminish your levels of self-efficacy by demeaning verbal chatter. Avoid them.
9. Manage your emotional responses and remember that emotional states before, during and after are key to efficacy building and determine if you will be enthusiastic or develop excuses and avoidance behaviors.
10. Increase the choices that make you feel more in control of your situation. Feeling out of control is a big de-motivator.
11. Receive regular, targeted feedback to know how you can improve on something. Attempt moderately difficult tasks that do not frustrate you while giving you a challenge and maintaining your interest.
12. Learn one or two skills or learning strategy sequences that you can master and implement. The strategy should be specific and step-by-step so that there is no ambiguity of implementation.
This is a preliminary excerpt from my upcoming book on excuses: Excuse your Excuses: 7 steps to get beyond excuses. The book will journey into the art and science of making excuses and breaking them on a deep psychological level.
Here is how the cover design looks so far but this is subject to change.
I welcome your valuable opinions on the book and the book cover!
Please let me know how this post resonated with you in the comments below and how do you recognize and eliminate learned helplessness and excuses from your life?